Basil pesto is an easy sauce to make yourself, with just a handful of ingredients. It tastes better, looks brighter and lasts longer than pre-made pesto so you’re better off making it at home!
Homemade pesto tastes infinitely better than the store bought stuff.
It’s a fresh, vibrant green and has so much more flavor!
And all it takes is 4 ingredients: basil leaves, nuts, garlic and olive oil. Once I realized how easy it is to make pesto, I’ve never gone back to the pre-made sauces.
Use pesto on pasta, chicken, fish, eggs – it goes with everything!
Here’s how to make a simple basil pesto.
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Basil Pesto Recipe Video
How to Make Pesto
Growing Basil Indoors
I like to grow my own basil. It’s not as hard as it sounds!
The Harvest has built-in lights and a water pump so it’s very handy for growing herbs on your kitchen counter.
Basil grows so quickly and so easily that I can easily grow enough to make a huge batch of pesto every 45 – 60 days.
The fresher the basil, the better the pesto tastes :)
If growing pesto indoors, make sure to harvest all the basil before the plant flowers.
Young, tender leaves taste the best. Once the herb starts to put out little white flowers, it’s focused on producing seeds and dying and the leaves will start to turn bitter.
How Much Basil to Use
The amount of basil doesn’t have to be exact.
Roughly 2 cups, or about 38 grams, is enough basil to make a tasty pesto.
Remove any stems on the basil leaves and lightly fill a cup so that it’s full (no need to densely compress).
Basil is the traditional herb on which pesto is made, but you can always switch it up. Try parsley, arugula, leeks, green beans, avocado, peas.. any kind of green herb, veggie or lettuce!
You can also vary the nuts. I like the flavor of toasted pine nuts but they can be expensive.
Cashews also work well and add more richness.
Or, try hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios or macadamia nuts! I’ve also heard sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds as a cost effective substitute.
For the cheese, pecorino is the traditional cheese used to make Ligurian pesto in Italy. But sometimes parmesan cheese is easier to find at the grocery store, so I’ve used both!
Or try a 50/50 mix.
Pesto Using Mortar and Pestle
I use my Ninja blender to make the pesto sauce, but if you have a food processor that will give you a smoother consistency.
Or a mortar and pestle works even better!
It takes a bit more elbow grease and stamina, but smashing the leaves with a mortar brings out more flavor and gives a nice chunkier sauce.
Pesto sauce can keep for a couple weeks in the refrigerator or up to a couple months in the freezer.
If storing in the fridge, place it in a glass storage container (I like these) and add a little bit more olive oil to the top. The light layer of oil will help keep it bright green by limiting oxidation.
I like to keep a small amount of pesto in the fridge and freeze the rest in bulk.
That way, I always have an easy pasta sauce on hand for nights where I’m too lazy to cook anything elaborate!
You can even freeze the pesto in little blocks (use an ice cube tray then transfer to a freezer bag), so that you have pre-portioned tablespoons of pesto.
Tips for Freezing Pesto
If freezing, leave out the cheese, salt and lemon juice (add that fresh when using the thawed pesto).
Also, take one extra little step of blanching the basil to help the frozen pesto preserve its color.
Blanching greens helps to preserve the bright green color instead of the dark, almost black look. If you blanch garlic, it will help remove some of the raw bite.
How to Blanch Basil
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare an ice water bath with cold water and ice cubes in a separate bowl.
- Turn off the heat and dump the basil and garlic into the pot. Ensure that everything is submerged in the water.
- Blanch for 15 seconds, then remove to the ice water bath to immediately stop the cooking process.
How to Use Pesto Sauce
I put pesto in anything! Here are some ways I like to use this easy homemade pesto sauce:
- Toasted focaccia bread with pesto dipping sauce
- Mushroom spinach pesto pasta
- Pesto eggs on toast
Simple Pesto Recipe
Homemade pesto is easy to make and has so much more flavor, color and freshness compared to premade sauces at the store.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves (roughly 40 grams)
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 3 cloves garlic
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup pecorino romano
- ½ tsp salt
- Juice of half a lemon
- Add basil leaves, pine nuts and garlic to a food processor or mortar and pestle. Blend until finely minced.
- Slowly dribble in the olive oil and continue to process.
- Grate in fresh pecorino romano and pulse until just combined.
- Add salt and lemon juice to finish. Transfer to a container and store in the fridge or freezer.
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